AT HOME NOW: When To Go Pro


I am a woman that believes in attainable goals.

I create a to-do list every single day. And those to-dos breed other to-do sub-topics which go on post-it notes, which leads to a “future to-do” section that only fits on the following page. It’s a complicated, imperfect system - but I make sure there are plenty of attainable goals on that list like: Make breakfast. CHECK. Walk the dog. CHECK. Text a friend that hilarious quarantine meme I know will crack her up. DOUBLE CHECK (I sent a few.) And at the end of the day I happily cross off half of my to-do’s and I feel great because, look at all I achieved!

So in that spirit, today I’m not going to ask you to do a thing! Grab a cup of tea and a celery stick (these weeks have been tough on the waistline, no?) - and I’ll answer all the questions about home design that you think you shouldn’t ask - but that you really should. So here it is, broken down:

How do I know if I even need a professional?

Hmmmm….. I’m going to use physical therapy as an analogy. Say you go to the gym and your knee hurts - do you go to PT? Well maybe, or maybe not if you are familiar with how your knees work and you do your research and you maybe talk to a friend who has had the same knee problem. Maybe you strengthen those muscles yourself. Or sometimes you need just a few PT visits to clarify things. But, say you’re having ACL surgery - the stakes are pretty high and you’re going to want a have a good physical therapist lined up. Have I totally confused you?

Here’s the thing, I’m all about DIY but does that mean you should be? (Not if you don’t want to, or if you want a result that goes beyond your abilities.) Do you need to go “all in” with a professional? (Not necessarily. Some designers work on a consultant basis and will give you just the help you need.) Should you get in way over your head? (Of course not! There are options out there to help you! 

How do professional designers charge?

Here’s the bad news... interior designers are expensive! My rate falls in the middle of the professional pack. Boston rates can be a lot higher, and then you can sometimes find a deal - but make sure the skill set of your designer aligns with the needs of your project. (If you are planning a kitchen and live in an antique house... get someone with lots of experience with kitchens in old houses.) The key isn’t so much the rate (although that matters too) It’s really about how you connect with a designer’s approach, communication, the quality of their work and their ability to plan properly so there aren’t any surprises. And the hours can add up - they just do. One of my most straightforward services - creating a color paint plan for the rooms in your home - rarely comes in at less than a thousand dollars. Additionally, different design firms bill differently. Charging by the hour is the most straightforward, but many firms mark-up purchases, and charge for warrantees, etc. There is no wrong or right - but before you hire a designer, you should understand their billing practices.

Yikes!  What do these overpriced designers do anyway?

That’s a tough question because the scenarios are so different - but here is one scenario: Maybe you are a homeowner renovating a kitchen area.  Well, in the planning phase, your designer will visit your home and discuss what you like and don’t like.  They will ask about your usage and habits and will create idea boards so that you are both really clear on what you are trying to achieve.  They will draw up ideas in a software that will make the project easy for you to visualize, and that will help you bid out your project and also help the contractor to get permits.  They will make sure the new blends with the old.  Their ideas will be well-thought out and will make even complex solutions look simple.  As construction proceeds, they will be there to check on progress and to make sure the construction standards are in line with both your expectations.  They will make sure you have made decisions in advance, so the contractors aren’t waiting for you to pick out your tile or cabinets.  They will shop with you to ensure your finishes are in keeping with your goals.  And if you have a good one, they will make the process, dare I say… fun?  Or at least a whole lot less stressful. 

For larger projects, the process is similar, but the designer would work in conjunction with your larger team of architects and contractors and specialty sub-contractors. 

That all sounds great, but who can afford it?  Isn’t there another way?

Of course there is!  I remember my first house here in Manchester.  I was the type of homeowner that bought salvage stuff at Todd Farm Flea Market (shout out to the early Sunday morning scavengers).  We used discarded cabinets to create an office.  We put in a kitchen instead of taking a vacation.  We just worked away on that house one room at a time.  I remember painting my living room after the kids went to bed, and there was this wobbly radiator.  To prop that radiator up I super-glued a stack of pennies together.  Yes. a stack of pennies!!!  I painted all of it, and you know what? It looked FINE and I’ll bet those pennies are still there.  So, yes!  Resourcefulness and a scrappy attitude can get you pretty far. But do your research.  Read up on the stages of a construction project. Talk to your friends that have been through it.  Ask lots of questions. Create an idea board on Pinterest or gather magazine clippings in a folder.  If you don’t have a good eye yourself, bribe your sister in law with martinis to shop with you (martinis’ after the shop).  Get good names for good contractors who have done quality work.  That part is important especially if you are not working with a designer.  The good contractors are designers in their own rights, so spend a little extra money and get a good one.

Any other tips?

Sure, utilize anyone with talent.  Do you like the colors in your friend’s house?  Be shameless and ask her for the paint numbers.  At high quality paint stores they will sometimes employ color specialists.  Same type of thing at good quality wallpaper outlets, or cabinet stores, or plumbing supply houses or tile stores.  There is lots of free talent out there - it’s just not entirely reliable.  And you have to keep in mind that those representatives are in the business of selling you sinks or cabinets or tile - they are not invested in your project as a whole - you have to be the one to do that.  But again, get names from friends or just go and try someone out.  It’s not foolproof but it’s something.  My favorite sales representatives have really helped me over the years - so I’m sure they can help you too.  And my final tip for the DIYers - keep it simple.  Go back to your idea board photos - hopefully there will be a few pictures that really capture what you are after - and follow them pretty faithfully. 

Is there extra credit?

I always knew you were an over achiever!  Yes!  Get going on planning that project.  Do it yourself or work with a professional - but the planning phase takes a while and (with a professional) can be done remotely.  It’s also a great time to reserve your contractor for future work.

And with that final thought, I think you’ve earned yourself a mental check in the “goal attained” column!  Go on, you’ve earned it!  If nothing else you’ve learned to not underestimate a stack of pennies, right?  See what I mean about attainable goals?

Now go grab a cookie.

Did I say that out loud?

I meant a celery stick.

manchester, jen coles, designer, color paint plan, professional home designer, home design, interior design